Archive for August, 2016

I wanted to share a quick bit of news before getting to my WWW’s: I finally created an archive of my book reviews! It’s organized by author last name. You can find it in my blog tabs above this post, beside the “About Me” and “About This Blog” tabs. Okay, on to the MEME!

WWW Wednesday is a weekly MEME hosted by Taking on a World of Words. I got the idea from Socially Awkward Bookworm. The three W’s are these:

What are you currently reading?

What did you recently finish reading?

What do you think you’ll read next?

Currently Reading

Two Serpents Rise by Max Gladstone is the second book in his Craft Sequence. I lovedlovedloved the first book, so I have high expectations. (And they’re being met!)

I’m also reading an eARC of The Continent by Kiera Drake, provided courtesy of HarlequinTeen. I won’t be posting the review until the cover is revealed, but the book is coming out in Jan 2017, so I’m hoping that will be soon! [Review now available!]

Recently Finished

I love a good old mystery for my bedtime reading and I just discovered Elizabeth Peters’ delightful Crocodile on the Sandbank (first published 1975). The narrator is just…perfect. Hilarious. Review coming next week. [Review now available!]

And Way of Shadows by Brent Weeks. What can I say? I’ll be fangirling about this one next week, as well. [Review now available!] Spoiler I LOVED IT SO MUCH.

Reading Next

The Fantastic Flying Book Club will be hosting a blog tour in September 2016 for A Mortal Song by Megan Crew, and they kindly gave me a copy to review! Look at that gorgeous cover. I can’t wait to dig in. Tune in for more!

After that, I’m planning to read episode two of Serial Box Publishing’s serial YA Dystopia: “Hungry” by Andrea Phillips. I loved episode one, so I have high hopes for episode two!

What have you been reading? I’d love to hear about it in the comments. If you do a WWW post or a Bookshelf Roundup or anything like that, I hope you’ll post it in the comments below so I can read it, too!

Labyrinth Lost

“I wonder what it’s like in other households during breakfast. Do their condiment shelves share space with jars of consecrated cemetery dirt and blue chicken feet? Do their mothers pray to ancient gods before they leave for work every morning? Do they keep the index finger bones of their ancestors in red velvet pouches to ward off thieves?”

Premise :

Alejandra is a Latin-American witch, also known as a bruja; but she hates and fears her powers. When she determines to reject her powers and heritage, her attempt backfires in a big way, and she must journey to the underworld, Los Lagos, to redeem herself. Will be published Sept. 6th, 2016.

What I Liked :

(1) Labyrinth Lost begins well, setting the scene in a house full of Brooklyn “brujas,” with creepy descriptions of what it means to be a Latin-American witch. The unique, Latin-flavored details are the main reason I wanted to read Labyrinth Lost in the first place. (2) Zoraida Cordova’s lyrical, original prose covers more than just the Latin-American world of the brujas: it also portrays Alex’s personal life, before the plot starts rolling. Alex struggles with a realistically painful and frightening magical “coming of age,” but she also enjoys a fun relationship with her siblings—equal parts love and snark. When they joke about reincarnation:

“What did I do in my last life to deserve you two?” “You were a pirate queen who stole a treasure from Cortes and then ended up deserting your crew to man-hungry sharks.”

So despite a few clunky plot points, early on, and the brat of a narrator (Alex is overly aggressive with everyone except Rishi, her bisexual love interest, with whom she softens almost to the point of sentimental silliness), I flew through the first half and noted, with rising hope, the unique descriptions of the secondary world that Alex enters through a portal.

“It startles me when I look at both ends of the horizon. The moon and the sun are out at the same time. On one end, the sun is a white circle hidden behind the overcast sky. On the other side of the horizon is a sideways, slender crescent moon, the points facing up. Something swells inside of me, a faded memory of bedtime stories about them reaching across the sky to join together—La Mama and El Papa.”

Disappointments :

(1) Unfortunately, it becomes clear around the 50% mark that Rishi was only included in this story for her sexual orientation; she has no plot purpose. [Highlight to view spoiler: She and Alex feel like good friends, but the bisexual relationship feels completely forced, as if the author only included it to make the book sell.] Not only does Rishi have no meaningful character arc, I can’t think of one thing she does to influence the plot. Ultimately, many readers looking for a good LGBT fantasy were disappointed (if Goodreads is any indication).

(2) The worldbuilding does not continue to deepen. Although the book’s Latin-American pantheon is full of uniquely named gods and goddesses, the deities end up blending together without much distinction or mythology. None is particularly fleshed out. Occasionally, a character shares a great story about one of the gods, but only very occasionally.

(3) Alex and Rishi are irritatingly ambivalent about Los Lagos and its gods, throughout most of the story. Rishi, in particular, acts like they’re traveling through Candyland, not Hell. She’s constantly like, “OH SHINY THINGS EVERYWHERE LET ME TOUCH THEM!” And Alex and Nova are like “STOP TOUCHING THAT YOU DARLING STUPID MAGPIE!” Literally, Alex constantly calls Rishi things like “my little magpie.” It makes the book feel more MG than YA. Behavior like this also deescalated the tension, for me, because if they’re not wary, why should I be?

Nova is the only character with any sense or passion about his religion. Here he defends his beliefs to the teen girls:

“Nova sounds frustrated as he says, ‘I can’t explain belief. I just have it. I know the power in me comes from somewhere. I know that the magic in my veins is real. No, I can’t tell you that if I speak to the Deos, they answer back with words, but there are other ways. When was the last time Zeus came down from Olympus and hung out just to prove his existence?”

(4) The magic system retains similar problems to the pantheon. While it is beautifully developed in language and atmosphere, it’s totally underdeveloped as a tool. Alex draws on physical energy to use her magic and no one ever defines her magical boundaries. So basically…Alex can do anything; that knowledge sucks the tension from the action sequences and the climax.

Overall :

Labyrinth Lost is unique among YA Fantasy, although its worldbuilding won’t satisfy longtime readers of Fantasy. It sidesteps some of its own questions (such as, “If at least some of the Latin religious myths are true, what about Rishi’s Guyanese religion?”); the tension is destroyed by a cardboard villain and unlimited deus ex machina magic; and the contrived bisexual relationship seems to have been included only as a selling point.

Still, the merits of the book stand. The unique Latin-American feel of this novel earns it 1.5 stars. I also generally liked the sentence-level craft of the book, which earns it a half star. And the twist at the 80ish% mark gives it another half star.

If the premise gives you a burning desire to read the book, as it did me, you may find something to like, here.

2.5/5 STARS

My thanks to Zoraida Cordova, Sourcebooks Fire and Netgalley for my review copy of Labyrinth Lost.

Three races fight for dominance in Pliocene Europe.

Premise :

Several million years ago, two factions of a dimorphic alien race took shelter on the most compatible planet: earth.

Fast-forward to the 22nd century, where not all humans are happy with the speed of progress and intergalactic relations with various “exotic” races. Several “misfit” humans portal back to Pliocene Europe to escape their own time. Ironically, these time-traveling refugees of the future must now battle aliens for their very lives in the past, instead of living in peace and harmony with them in their own time.

The saga of the human and alien refugees continues in this second book of the Pliocene Exile.

Adult science fiction, Published 1982. Book I was nominated for the Nebula award in 1981 and a Hugo Award in 1982. It won the 1982 Locus Award for Best Science Fiction Novel.

What I Liked :

The plot. The plot of book I, The Many Colored Land, is split between setup for the time warp (from “intergalactic age earth” to “Pliocene earth”) and the events following the warp—a short plot of political rebellion that takes place in the world of the Pliocene itself.

But book II is all Pliocene politics, baby, and the power struggles center on racial survival.

The Tanu, the dominant exotic race due to their strong mental powers, continually battle their rivals and sister-race, the Firvulag, who lack the technology and mental powers of the Tanu.

And humans are the slaves.

Because the Tanu struggle to procreate due to earth’s radiation levels (unlike the Firvulag, who are far more numerous), they seek humans with strong mental abilities as mates to carry on their bloodlines and rule the Pliocene empire. As a result, humans with strong mental abilities, such as the madcap trickster Aiken Drum (who always keeps things interesting) or the totally boring but insanely powerful Elizabeth are highly sought after as Tanu mates.

So, basically the premise rocks. The author pulls it off with style and it’s a lot of fun.

What I Didn’t Like :

(1) My lack of connection with the characters was such that whenever they endured some terrible plot twist of fate, my reaction, instead of crying with the characters, was continually, “HAH! Clever twist, author, I gotta hand it to you.” It’s not that the characters were bad; not at all. In fact, for a plot- and milieu-driven book, they were quite good. But I really like to connect with my characters, and I had trouble with that in both books I & II. The main reason is, I think,

(2) that as with book I, I would have preferred fewer perspectives. I like reading from the perspective of a small cast anyway, but these books aren’t large enough to fully explore their 8+ character arcs.

(3) My third complaint is totally subjective and likely connected to my first complaint, above; but it bothers me that love is never a “great power,” in this series. Hatred, madness and power-lust drive the plot, but love (almost) never does. Pliocene lovers (who have no chemistry, btw) tend to find comfort in their love only until they go mad or die.

Love is almost never a powerful plot motivation. Mental powers are the main “force,” in this world.

Which brings me to (4) my fourth and final complaint: I don’t find the speculative element all that…magical. I know, I know, this is sci-fi, not fantasy; but I still like to find myself wishing I could have a go with the superpowers or whatever. I didn’t feel that way about the five great “mental guilds” or “metaphysic clans” that make up a large portion of the speculative element, in this series: Farsensors, Creators, Coercers, psychokinetics (PK), and Redactors.

The mindspeak is almost nauseating, at times. It sounds like baby talk:

Atleast they no make Aiken dance their tune viceversa if anything.
Not toy like Raimobooby.
Nor I Sukeylove if you help.”

I happen to enjoy whimsy more than MIND CRUSHING POWERS! But a different reader might really enjoy the complexity of the mental gymnastics involved.

Overall :

Julian May knows how to tell a good story. This review may have sounded negative, but I’m really just elucidating my own personal reasons for keeping this book at 3.5 stars, despite the incredible thought put into the premise and pageantry.

Recommended To :

Male readers of fantasy and sci-fi at my library seem to love this series. Any plot- or milieu-driven readers would eat this up. I recommend it to teen and adult readers of sci-fi. It will appeal to some fantasy readers, but more to sci-fi readers, I think.

Book III? :

I think I’ll give it a shot. The plot sounds interesting and I like the direction things are going with Aiken Drum…

3.5/5 STARS

Premise :

Ramagar, the self-styled Thief of Kalimar, and his partner Mariana, accompany a mysterious stranger on a quest to free the land of Speca from its dread conquerors.

About :

This is an older book, originally published in 1979; but Endeavor Press is republishing it, along with several other books by the author, Graham Diamond, whose book The Haven apparently has a cult following.

I confess to some confusion about why Endeavor republished this one. I think a lot of men must have read and enjoyed it as youngsters (which I gather by reading the Amazon reviews, not through Goodreads where the current overall rating is a rather low 3.22), so perhaps Endeavor expects these nostalgic readers to buy copies for old times’ sake. Fortunately or unfortunately, stories and storytelling have changed a lot since 1979, and this book had little staying power, at least to my tastes.

I enjoyed the first half of this book quite a bit more than the latter half, even though none of it is really “my style” (by which I mean, “has a fast-moving, but character-driven plot and atmospheric prose”). In the beginning, the middle-eastern feel attracted me, and I found myself subconsciously nabbing books about Sindbad and Aladdin from library shelves.

But when the story leaves Kalimar for the north, all the charm stays behind. Soon after that point (perhaps some 15% later), the cardboard characters and the predictable plot got the better of my patience and I gave up reading this one.

DNF at 61%. Why?

The Characters :

They have no personal ambitions; or, when they do have personal ambitions, the plot quickly overpowers them. They also have no consistent personalities—they all hang their heads, sneer coldly, nod gravely and purse their lips in grim smiles. Needless to say, I couldn’t, could not connect with them.

I’m also not sure why this book is titled “The Thief of Kalimar,” since it’s really more about “The Prince of Speca.” (Except, of course, because the former title sounds way more epic and eastern. But the plot revolves around the prince’s agenda, not the thief’s, so the title doesn’t makes sense to me.) Perhaps the final 39% would have enlightened me, but even that (not so) compelling question won’t convince me to finish this one.

The Plot :

It was fun, at first. The heroes mentally and physically overcome a few entertaining obstacles, such as swimming through waist-high sewage; they also outwit a few clever antagonists, such as a terrifying and warlike race of baboons and a bevy of soldiers who, thankfully, do not have the benefit of fingerprint criminal databases.

But after about 50%, I lost interest. The “planning” sessions always go like this: someone suggests a “crazy!” plan; everyone pelts him with baboon poop; the man with the plan points out x, y & z, which clearly make the plan necessary; everyone else grudgingly agrees. I mean, if it were a bit…cleverer…I might still enjoy these scenes. But it was too formulaic to keep me interested.

Other Complaints Because I Spent Hours Reading This Thing :

(1) The new cover does not fit at all. (2) I would have like a map. (Maybe the finished version has one?) (3) Feminists, you will hate this book. Don’t even try it. (4) “Over the low wall jumped Ramagar, thief of thieves.” This is an actual sentence from the book. And I respond, “At the book laughed Christy, reviewer of doom!”

Overall :

The first half has some nice moments and adventures, but everything goes downhill in the second. I can’t imagine that anyone who has read much fantasy would find this book very interesting. Although…it’s actually not at all inappropriate for children and teens. It might be a bit long for the MG crowd, but if those Amazon reviewers are any indication, boy readers might eat this book up.

Read at your own risk.

1.5/5 STARS

Bookshelf roundups” are just what they sound like: they “roundup” my latest reviews and upcoming reviews.

Recent Reviews

Yo readers! I’ve been reading a TON of YA, this month. Here’s the roundup, thus far:

First up was The Children of Icarus, a YA Fantasy by young author Caighlan Smith.

Children of Icarus

Kiersten White’s fabulous Alt Historical YA, And I Darken, was next:

My favorite of the bunch was a crossover fantasy from the 1980s: The Blue Sword by Robin McKinley.

The-Blue-Sword

I’m always looking for fantasies like this book, so I welcome your suggestions! This was a five-star, for me.

My latest review was of a new serial YA Dystopian called “ReMade,” put out by Serial Box Publishing.

Remade

Multiple authors, including the author And I Darken, Kiersten White, will contribute to this serial; episode one, authored by Matthew Cody, will be released on Sept 14th, 2016.

Upcoming Reviews

But in the next two weeks, I’ll be reviewing a couple of adult picks, in addition to an upcoming YA:

The Thief of Kalimar by Graham Diamond, a 1979 middle-eastern-flavored Fantasy that was recently republished as an ebook.

The Golden Torc by Julian May, book 2 of The Saga of the Pliocene Exile, an adult sci-fi published in the 1980s and republished by Tor in 2013.

Aaaaaand Labyrinth Lost by Zoraida Cordova, a Latin-flavored YA Fantasy which will be published Sept 6th by Sourcebooks Fire. [Review now available!]

Labyrinth Lost.jpg

Isn’t that cover creepy!?

What have you been reading lately? What are you planning to read next? I do hope you’ll link your next “bookshelf roundup” to this post so I can see what you’re reading, too!

Remade

“The next time he opened his eyes there were monsters. They surrounded him, poked at him with spindly metallic arms. He saw himself reflected in their glassy eyes, multifaceted like prisms. A dozen Holdens all screamed at once, but someone had turned his voice off…

‘He’s awake,’ said a voice near his ear…’You shouldn’t do this to him while he’s awake. It hurts him.’”

“ReMade will premiere on September 14th, 2016. It will unfold across 15 episodes, be available in text and audio forms, and is presented by Serial Box Publishing.”

And I am so excited for more.

About :

ReMade is a serialized YA that took me completely by surprise. I originally discovered this publisher of serialized fiction because I had heard that Max Gladstone, author of the awesomely original Three Parts Dead, was writing an urban fantasy serial about magical librarians, or something. That particular serial is deep into season two.

But then I noticed that Kiersten White, author of And I Darken, a YA Historical which recently blew me away, was contributing to a brand new Dystopian/Adventure YA serial called “ReMade.” So, what the heck, I figured I’d give it a shot.

This first episode is written by author Matthew Cody.

The Opening :

It starts with this episode’s protagonist, Holden, living a relatively normal teenaged life. Or maybe not. He’s playing the only male fairy in the school play to impress a girl. Is that normal?

At any rate, I found him and his situation endearing. As he changes out of costume in his makeshift dressing room, a broom closet:

“Holden could just picture that door accidentally opening onto a crowded roomful of teenagers and their parents, and him standing there in his boxer briefs and eye shadow. It would be a Holden moment to remember.”

*snicker* I enjoyed the humor of the opening scenes.

And then things go crazy. The apocalypse. You know.

Here’s the publisher description:

“You live. You love. You die. Now RUN. ReMade.

Every minute, 108 people die.

On October 14th, 2016, from 9:31-9:32 p.m. EDT, 23 of those deaths will be teenagers.

Now they are humanity’s last hope for survival.

Awakened in a post-apocalyptic world and hunted by mechanical horrors, these teens search for answers amidst the ruins of civilization. Fate, love, and loyalty face off in this adrenaline -pumping YA adventure.”

Overall:

Standard YA Dystopian fare? Maybe, maybe not. It’s too early to tell, after reading this 45 minute episode, but there are some nice sci-fi touches that I don’t want to spoil for you. Episode one doesn’t reveal a lot of answers, but I’m hoping the next episode will. I really enjoyed Holden’s voice, and I know I will love Kiersten White’s writing, in her episodes.

That’s good enough for me to move on to episode two.

I can’t wait!

Recommended To :

Thus far, plot-driven dystopia addicts. Sci-fi lovers. Adults who YA.

Thanks to Matthew Cody, Serial Box Publishing and Netgalley for my review copy!

The-Blue-Sword

If I were marketing a new edition of this book (*hint hint, publishers*), I would only half-jokingly market it as Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park meets Alanna The Lioness: The First Adventure.

Premise :

Harry Crewe, an orphan, lives on the charity of an upper-class Homelander family in the desert country of Damar. But when the king of a native, magical Hillfolk population senses with his “kelar” magic that Harry will be important to his people, he spirits her away to his desert tribe.

Harry soon exceeds the Hillfolk king’s expectations by developing a military skill that marks her a symbol of hope for the downtrodden Hillfolk. To them, she becomes known as “Harimad-sol,” a legend in the making, and among them she finds purpose she never found among the Homelanders. When the King declares her a king’s rider and gifts her with the legendary blue sword of Lady Aerin, Harry carries it to war for her adopted country.

High Fantasy, first published 1982, winner of Newbery Honor (1983), Rebecca Caudill Young Reader’s Book Award Nominee (1988) & Dorothy Canfield Fisher Children’s Book Award Nominee (1984).

My library has copies of The Blue Sword in both the children’s section and the adult sf/f section; but if this book were published today, it would probably be marketed as YA, even though it doesn’t feel like modern YA (kind of like Sabriel by Garth Nix doesn’t feel quite like YA). It would also probably have more romance and less of a European feel.

As is, it appeals as much to adult-me as I think it would have to teenaged-me.

The Plot :

The first few chapters start slowly, but the writing is so lovely, I didn’t mind a bit. The plot fits nicely within the Hero’s Journey/Quest plot, except that it’s about a girl, instead of a guy. I love the “training” portions of the novel, since those often get skipped, in modern YA Fantasies.

The Worldbuilding :

The worldbuilding is a delightful mix of Victorian English, almost-American-western and middle eastern societies, as impossible as that sounds. The Homelanders have civil servants, rickety trains and fabulously fresh orange juice, and they spend their time hosting fancy dinners with the militia to find eligible mates for their daughters. Meanwhile the conquered Hillfolk, a clan-like desert people, live in the real world where wars and magic and concerns over a dwindling population take precedence.

It’s quite a fun world.

The subtle “kelar” magic reminds me of The Lord of the Rings. Nobody knows how the magic works, exactly; it just does. It appears to be more of an uncontrollable, fates-driven thing than an ability.

The Characters :

There’s so much to love about Harry Crewe. She’s my very favorite kind of protagonist—one who is complex and compelling, but also very good. She’s a heroine not just because she’s skilled, capable and loyal, but because she has a mind of her own and accepts responsibility for her own choices without complaint. She doesn’t expect the world to be fair; she just does her best to make it better.

She reminds me so, so much of Keladry in Tamora Pierce’s Protector of the Small series.

Modern heroes and heroines are often flawed, but Harry proves that “good” doesn’t have to mean “simple,” “boring” or “formulaic,” just as “flawed” doesn’t always mean “complex.”

The Style :

The Blue Sword deemphasizes voice in favor of worldbuilding, a technique I love. McKinley’s unaffected, genteel and lightly humorous third person objective narration is, I think, more difficult than the more far more common and subjective “third person limited” and “first person” narratives that populate YA today. A lot of older Fantasies seem more adept at this technique; perhaps the style was more popular, then.

Recommendation :

The Blue Sword won’t be to everyone’s tastes, but I would HIGHLY, HIGHLY recommend this book for fans of Tamora Pierce, Rosemary Sutcliff and Cinda Williams Chima. (Also, possibly fans of Sherwood Smith. I haven’t tried her, yet, but she sounds promising.) Anyone who just wants a good story.

I’m already rereading it and enjoying the lush worldbuilding all over again. It’s no wonder Robin McKinley’s books have survived and thrived decades after they were written.

Do you know any great books like this one? If you have any recommendations for me, please tell me in the comments!

“Your mother is Wallachia.”

Premise :

The young royals Ladislav and Radu Dragwlya are sold from their homeland of Wallachia into the heart of the 15th century Ottoman Empire. Lada never stops dreaming of her country, but Radu finds a new home in Islam and in the friendship of Mehmed, son of the Sultan. But even as prince Mehmed works his way into both Lada’s and Radu’s hearts, he dreams of ruling and even expanding his father’s empire over more lands like Wallachia. As the three friends grow up together, their very different paths and desires strain the bonds of love.

YA Historical, published 2016 by Delacorte Press.

About :

And I Darken focuses primarily on the desires and nuanced relationships of the three main characters. But within this context, the book also explores the period politics.

If we were not pushing, fighting, claiming what is ours and challenging what is not yet ours, others would be doing it to us. It is the way of the world. You can be the aggressor, you can fight against Crusaders on their own land, or you can stay at home and wait for them to come to you. And they would come. They would come with fire, with disease, with swords and blood and death. Weakness is an irresistible lure.”

It’s a simplified, intensely character-driven Game of Thrones, Ottoman royal teen edition. Except…this really isn’t fantasy. It’s historical fiction with a twist: Vlad the Impaler is a girl.

What I Liked :

(1) The characters. The perfectly mapped, clear desire lines of the two narrators, Lada and Radu, relentlessly drew me through the pages; this is their shared Bildungsroman. But the characterization continues far beyond just them. The author writes all the characters with care, including Mehmed, Lada’s hilarious cohort of Janissary soldiers and even minor female characters of the harem.

I love how different women characters explore the power dynamics available to them, especially Lada, the female version of Vlad the Impaler. She’s so careful as she weighs her options [highlight to read spoiler: of ruling her own country, or co-ruling the empire that conquered her country in the first place. Mara’s defeat of the harem system seems to inspire Lada’s rejection of “the woman card.”].

Lada’s chapters give me almost everything I wanted from this book. They show off the Ottoman landscape, politics and battle-tactics. Lada considers herself a freedom fighter, and she professes her patriotism well, in an exchange with prince Mehmed:

I would sooner see my country burned than see it improved under Ottoman rule. Not everywhere needs to be remade in your image. If we were not so busy constantly defending our borders and being trespassed by other nations’ armies, we would be able to care for our own!”

My favorite part of Radu’s chapters is his devotion to Islam and the devotion of other characters who led him to it.

(2) The prose works overtime to bring each character and setting to life. For example, Radu wishes he could see the prince, as they march to one of the crusades, but…:

“But Murad’s and Mehmed’s forces were on different ends of the procession, separating Radu and Mehmed by a full day’s march. The sheer logistics of moving this many men and this much equipment was staggering.”

They’re in the same war party, but they’re separated by a full day’s march?! That is staggering! It really brings home the enormous size of these battles.

What I Disliked :

While the love triangle is both unique and well-written, involving sibling rivalry and themes of patriotism vs. love, it does steal some of the focus from the politics and war, especially at the end. The tension ratios are thus:

35% love triangle, mostly thanks to Radu’s chapters; 65% war and medieval secret service.

This is actually a great ratio, for YA; but while I enjoyed some of the romantic scenes, angsty drama does get old. I preferred Lada’s scenes because she’s constantly plotting some exhibition of her battle skills or saving Mehmed from assassination. I wanted to know more about her study of war strategy. I wanted to spend more real time with her crew of Janissaries.

I wanted to hear less of Radu’s whining.

Basically, I wanted this to be “Bernard Cornwell writes the Ottoman Empire.” I got about 70% of that, and it was awesome. But the rest consisted of historical romance + teen angst – hot sex.

The Ending :

Overall, the book doesn’t finish as strongly as the first 370 pgs predict. The ending feels sloppier than the carefully-plotted beginning and middle—the protagonists “discover” the antagonist’s grand plan with vague guesswork; plot points are suddenly explained in brief dialogues, instead of experienced; the prose slackens with lazy physical telling. It feels a little like the author tired of revisions or ran out of time for them.

Thankfully, a great plot twist saves the book from a so-so climax. I also love the final scene [highlight to read spoiler: at the Wallachian border. Even though the ending is bittersweet and totally reminds me of Gone With the Wind, I cheered when Lada and her men returned to their homeland. It’s irritating that she and Mehmed can’t just work something out, like making Lada be a warrior queen and keeping their relationship. Couldn’t they build an alliance, but still remain separate countries? I’m sure that’s completely historical untenable, but this isfiction! Haha. That would have been a cooler ending, imo. Just sayin’.].

Recommendation :

Perfection for fans of YA fiction. In fact, if you like YA at all, I’ll almost guarantee you’ll like this book. Fans of Bernard Cornwell’s historical action/adventure may have a more lukewarm response because neither Lada nor Radu do a lot of fighting. Fans of historical romance might really enjoy the book, though, if they don’t mind the lack of bedsport 😉 I will definitely recommend this book to some teens (in fact, I already have), despite the annoyances of teen angst.

After all, teens are living through it. I’m sure it’s more interesting to them.

4.5/5 STARS

COI

The gods were always jealous of the angels, or so we are taught. The gods have always been cruel, always tricksters.

Remember the story of Icarus? Children of Icarus turns the story on its head. In this book, the angel Icarus is a victim of the gods; he survives his nearly-fatal fall when the sun melts his wings.

But the great architect Daedala does still construct the famous labyrinth over the tomb where Icarus regenerates through the centuries.

Or so we are taught.

There is a labyrinth, but no one knows how to get through it. Here’s where our narrator comes in:

There is, somewhere, an end to the labyrinth. Every year, those young and innocent like Icarus are sent to find this end. If they accomplish this task they are rewarded with entry into Alyssia, land of the angels, where they themselves will become angels and one day welcome Icarus home.

Or so they are taught.

YA Fantasy published August 1st, 2016 by Capstone Switch Press.

About This Book :

This book defies easy description. An unnamed girl accompanies her best friend, Clara, a promising young angel-to-be, into the labyrinth. As she meets danger after danger, the unnamed girl copes with her new life in an aggressively passive manner, until [highlight to view spoiler: her mentor arrives in the form of a mysterious legend known only as “The Executioner,” three-quarters of the way through the book].

So, yes, the premise is weird.

But I was excited to read it because the publisher, Switch Press, published one of my latest YA faves in 2015, Railhead by Philip Reeve. While Reeve is a very experienced writer, Caighlin Smith, author of Children of Icarus, is a young writer in her early twenties; still, she shows a lot of promise, in Children of Icarus.

What I Liked :

The strong prologue; the quick start that moves into adventure mode with only a brief, tense setup; the lovely characterization of Clara, in the beginning; the differentiation of the secondary characters; and the sensory-driven prose, brushed with moments of horror. These elements kept me entertained until nearly halfway through the story.

Unfortunately:

Things slowed down a lot at about the 1/4 mark. Although the author dives deeply into the psyche of her narrator, the unnamed girl lives in a constant state of victimhood and inactivity. Because of this, the middle of the book sags into angsty passivity and the plot flounders. In fact, I’m still not really sure what the plot was supposed to be. If the goal was to find the end of the labyrinth, [highlight to view spoiler: then the narrator didn’t succeed or fail because the book ends before we find out]. The book skips around a few important steps of the hero’s journey; it wasn’t a rebellion; it wasn’t an escape; and it wasn’t an epic Greek tragedy. The ending left all my plot and worldbuilding questions unanswered.

That’s my other main complaint: the prologue promises some fun worldbuilding and mythology, but after the first few chapters, all that promise tapers off without much explanation. The worldbuilding stays at a very close range, from the first person, present tense narration, and the answers to most of my questions have been postponed to book II.

On the plus side, this book is not a romance, the final 1/4 picks up with some great action sequences and “hero’s journey training” moments, and I enjoyed the labyrinthine monsters throughout the book.

Overall:

Children of Icarus will please young genre fans, but if you’re looking for consistent adventure and in-depth worldbuilding, look elsewhere—perhaps to Smith’s next offering.

***3/5 STARS

Thank you to Caighlan Smith, Capstone Switch Press and Netgalley for my e-copy of Children of Icarus!

Goodreads Book Tag

Posted: August 1, 2016 in Book Tag
Tags:

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Ashley over at Socially Awkward Bookworm tagged everyone in her Goodreads Book Tag post. If you haven’t seen her blog before, you should totally check it out!

Anyhoo, I really enjoyed reading her answers to the Goodreads Tag questions, so I decided to answer them, too.

What is the last book you marked as “READ”?

Change Places With Me by Lois Metzger. You can read my review of it on my blog here or my Goodreads here! This great new character-driven YA SF clearly marks Lois Metzger as an experienced storyteller. She writes short stories and edits anthologies, accomplishments which explain her talent for writing tight, tense prose. This short book compelled me to read quickly on toward the plot secret. 4/5 STARS.

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What are you currently reading?

I actually already finished YA Fantasy Children of Icarus by Caighlan Smith, but I haven’t marked it as read, yet, because I’m still editing the review. (Review to come this Thursday, Aug. 4th! [Review now available!]) I was excited to read this offering from young Caighlan Smith because (1) I love watching a writer’s talent develop and (2) the book was published (today, Aug. 1st!) by Switch Press, who also published Philip Reeve’s Railhead, an excellent YA SF/F about sentient, space-traveling trains.

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I’m also currently reading The Blue Sword by Robin McKinley, a High Fantasy published (and marketed to both children and adults) in 1987 with an impressive 4.23 overall rating on Goodreads. I’ve been savoring it because it’s AMAZING. [Review now available!]

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And And I Darken by Kiersten White, a YA Historical that I’m sure  you’ve heard about. This book is buzzworthy for good reason. [Review now available!]

What was the last book you marked as “TO READ”?

Future Shock by Elizabeth Briggs.

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I found this YA time travel SF while I was book-shopping for my library’s teen section; after seeing all its positive reviews, I knew I had to read it.

What book do you plan on reading next?

The Thief of Kalimar by Graham Diamond.

I saw, on Netgalley, that this 1979 adult High Fantasy was recently republished by Endeavor Press (a small UK publisher doing some interesting stuff, as noted by The Guardian) and it looked like a fun read. My review of it should be up sometime during the week of Aug. 15th-21st!

Do you use the star rating system?

Yes, and I add half-stars.

Are you doing the 2016 Reading Challenge?

Nah. Maybe I’ll do it just to clean off my “to-read” shelf, at some point, but for now I’m pleased with my progress. At this point, I’m busy enough making time to write my stories in between reading, reviewing and working!

Do you have a wishlist?

Indeed. It includes all of Dorothy L. Sayers’ hilarious Lord Peter Wimsey mysteries.

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Dorothy Sayers also translated Dante’s Divine Comedy, and I want to buy vols. II & III, Purgutory & Paradise, since I’m enjoying Hell so much. (Well, that sounds weird, but WHATEVA.)

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And, finally, books II & III of Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn trilogy. (I already own book I.)

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What book do you plan on buying next?

All of them, as soon as I get giftcards! Haha. I’ll probably start with the Mistborns, since I want to review those.

What is your favorite quote?

Oh my, that’s an impossible question; but I’ll do my best. Faith inspires me very much, so let’s go with Sherlock Holmes on Providence:

“There is nothing in which deduction is so necessary as religion…It can be built up as an exact science by the reasoner. Our highest assurance of the goodness of Providence seems to me to rest in the flowers. All other things, our powers, our desires, our food, are all really necessary for our existence in the first instance. But this rose is an extra. Its smell and its color are an embellishment of life, not a condition of it. It is only goodness which gives extras, and so I say again that we have much to hope from the flowers.”
― Arthur Conan Doyle, The Naval Treaty

Who are your favorite authors?

Dorothy L. Sayers, Madeleine L’Engle, Flannery O’Connor & Jane Austen!

Why are all my favorite authors dead? *sigh* And female!

Okay, just to round things out, a living male author: Brandon Sanderson.

Are you a part of any Goodreads groups?

Yes, “Nothing But Book Challenges.” I’m afraid I’m not a very active member, but I do enjoy seeing what everyone is reading. Occasionally I accept one of their challenges, to liven things up. I like their Netgalley boards.

What could Goodreads do better?

I love Goodreads, but I don’t like the look of the reviews when I share them on Facebook. I think the Facebook versions are ugly and difficult for my readers to manage.

I tag NeverSeenAnEvergreen, The Critiquing Chemist and anyone else who enjoys Goodreads 🙂 Thanks again for the tag, Socially Awkward Bookworm!